Old Testament: Jeremiah (8:15-9:1)
My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”) “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!
The Response: Psalm (79:1-9)
1 O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance;
they have profaned your holy temple; *
they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.
2 They have given the bodies of
your servants as food for the birds of the air, *
and the flesh of your faithful ones
to the beasts of the field.
3 They have shed their blood
like water on every side of Jerusalem, *
and there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a reproach to our neighbors, *
an object of scorn and derision to those around us.
5 How long will you be angry, O Lord? *
will your fury blaze like fire for ever?
6 Pour out your wrath upon the heathen
who have not known you *
and upon the kingdoms
that have not called upon your Name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob *
and made his dwelling a ruin.
8 Remember not our past sins;
let your compassion be swift to meet us; *
for we have been brought very low.
9 Help us, O God our Savior,
for the glory of your Name; *
deliver us and forgive us our sins,
for your Name’s sake.
The New Testament: 1 Timothy (2:1-7)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
The Gospel: Luke (16:1-13)
Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
When I plan our Sunday worship services, I do an entire season at a time. I start with the scripture readings that are appointed for each Sunday and then try to choose hymns and prayers that draw on or reflect those passages.
Sometimes, a choice is obvious. Today’s reading from Jeremiah, for example, includes the pleading questions (8:22): “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” A “balm in Gilead” – hmmm, guess what hymn we’re singing after Communion!
Other readings are a lot tougher. In all the reference materials that I have collected over the years, there is not a single hymn suggested to go with the parable in today’s gospel reading: the one with the story about the dishonest manager. That is not at all surprising. Biblical scholars over the centuries have struggled, without much success, to explain why Jesus holds up as a positive example such a deceitful and conniving person. Some have written extensively about it, offering some creative, but suspect, explanations. But as one contemporary scholar (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, p. 402) has observed: “One feels that the lack of knowledge available to interpret this parable is inversely proportional to the amount written about it.” If you don’t know anything, write more. (I’m sure that teachers who have had to grade countless student essays and exams are all too familiar with that approach.)
If there is anything useful that we can take away from this parable, it might just be the reminder that God calls us to see thinking as a kingdom activity. God calls us to use all the resources at our disposal to accomplish God’s work in the world, and that includes our God-given intelligence. Simplicity does not mean simple-mindedness.
Some Christians tend to equate a childlike faith with being naïve. But the same Jesus who offered to us the example of a child also warned his disciples (Mt. 10:16) to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” The building up of the dominion of God in this world requires us to use all the faculties and all the other gifts that we have. And that includes using them to find ways to bring that “balm of Gilead,” that healing to a hurting world.
Some of the hurts are obvious. We work to respond to tragedies like the recent mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, and like the hurricane and tornadoes that struck the Bahamas and our own east coast. We need to do that; but we can’t stop there. We also need to work together on, and insist that our state and national leaders work together on, practical measures to curb gun violence and to ensure our ability to respond to the victims of natural disasters as they occur. And those efforts require creative thinking and a willingness to struggle together to find solutions.
Our world, our nation, and our local communities are divided in multiple ways: by race, by poverty, by the level of education, by nationality and language. These, too, are injuries that cause great and ongoing suffering. They, too, require healing. They, too, need some of that “balm of Gilead” that we can bring only if we work together, using our God-given creativity and self-sacrificing generosity to make whole the human family.
But there are also other divisions that we encounter on a more regular basis, both as a church and as individuals. They are ones that we tend not to notice, or maybe just choose to ignore. And they are ones that we can all do something about if we are willing (maybe that’s why we try to ignore them).
One of those comes when someone we know – a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a member of our church – is no longer able to participate actively in the world around him or her. They might be in their own home or might have moved to an assisted living facility or a nursing home. They might be comfortable and well taken care of where they live. But, at the same time, far too many of them suffer from the sense that they are now cut off from the people and activities that were so much a part of their lives for many years. They feel that they have been forgotten.
Usually, people don’t avoid them intentionally. It is simply easier to kind of forget about them, or just to ask somebody else from time to time how that person is doing, without making any direct contact ourselves. As I said, it’s not usually intentional; but, at the same time, maybe it is something that we try to avoid unconsciously, refusing to deal with the fact that we could find ourselves in their position eventually – or actually at any time. If we ignore it, maybe it won’t happen to us. Maybe it will just go away.
The great scientist and inventor, George Washington Carver, once advised: “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong; because some day in life you will have been all of these.” Our late Bishop Herbert Thompson used to refer to those of us who are now healthy and independent and walking around as “the temporarily abled.” That puts our fragile humanity, and our own fragile condition, into perspective.
If we were suddenly separated from those who have been so much a part of our lives, I suspect that it would be important to us to have those people call us or write to us and especially, to come and visit us, when we could no longer visit them. Their presence and love and concern would bring us healing.
In the same way, we can all be ministers of healing, we can all bring some of that “balm of Gilead” to others — to members of our families, to friends, to current or former neighbors, and to fellow members of our church who can no longer come to us. We can accomplish that by going out to them, letting them know that they are not forgotten, that they are still valued, and that they are still loved. And that might bring them the most powerful healing of all.